Avenue Q @ Sheffield Lyceum
It’s funny how the Muppets are still relevant to generations that never saw them on television prime time, but that know who they are whether due to repeats, several films of varying quality and the odd tribute (Weezer‘s magnificent video) or flippant parody (Family Guy springs to mind, putting Kermit as a racist or Cookie Monster as a junkie).
What is it about loveable puppets with googly eyes that entices the attention of old and young? Whatever it was, it fuelled one great idea in the form of Avenue Q, a musical that never fears to go and lay its cards on the table. Consider it Sesame Street for everyone who’s finished their higher learning and need to get learn the ropes of being an “adult”. It’s a bucket of glacial-cold water to the face.
So, besides being a homage/ribbing of Sesame Street, what is Avenue Q about? Well, like Sesame Street, its goal is to teach something. Instead of ABCs and numbers, it’s the harsh realities about being thrown into this crazy world, how your perception changes (either by tooth or claw, but changes) and how you sometimes do need to go with the flow and accept the hand that has been dealt, even if it means forfeiting that “to do” list you had.
We set our sights towards happy-go-lucky Princeton, a recent graduate that has done his dues and is looking for a place to stay. He arrives to Avenue Q, the only place he can afford to live in. His neighbours aren’t any better off: Kate is a teaching assistant that eagerly awaits for her big break. Rod and Nicky (a pisstake at Bert and Ernie) are the typical “odd couple” (in more than one way) that need to sort a lot of things out. Christmas Eve and Brian are a couple slightly older than everyone else (in their early 30s, it seems) and therefore, more cynical, after life has battered them a bit. Trekkie Monster (a neighbour with an interesting addiction) is just hanging around. Of course, TV’s Gary Coleman is also around. Wait, what?
That off-kilter humour paired with some pop-culture references (not too many, though) is what gives Avenue Q its edge. The manic pace is relentless too, but the cast (all of them quite excellent) manage to deftly play their parts, with Rachel Jerram (Kate / Lucy the Slut) arguably taking the top spot on basis of her voice alone.
Through several song and dance routines, you get the gallows humour of the production, laughing at stuff you’ve probably been through (or will be, believe you me). It’s hard to choose which song of the myriad of them is the funniest, but ‘Everyone’s a little racist’ is probably my personal fave, highlighting that no matter what you believe, you have a spot of racism in you. “Everyone’s a little racist sometimes / Doesn’t mean we go committing hate crimes” is such a perfect line and an invitation to accept yourself, warts and all.
Because that’s the gist of Avenue Q: accepting where you are. It doesn’t mean that all dreams have to be drowned in a puddle in the barrio (!), they just need to be a little more realistic. And if you really want to achieve what you set yourself to do, you’re best staying away from the Bad Idea Bears, a comical (in a “holy shit, that’s so true” way) representation of how bad ideas LOVE to come into your head and trick you into falling for them. Cuddly Wuddly bastards.
I have nothing but kudos about the cast. It has to be hard to be controlling a puppet while delivering your lines (or singing them) and this difficulty is compounded when several of the actors voice more than one puppet. It surely took a lot of effort but in the end, it shows, the spectacle was pretty much flawless. Sure, the ending is very Deus Ex Machina, but it’s part of the zeitgeist of the play, and although in the surface is a very happy, mushy ending, if you scratch the surface, you’ll notice the gold paint peeling off.
Finally, I have a soft spot for the characters of Brian and Christmas Eve. In a way, they are the future of Princeton and Kate. It’s been about ten years or so since they were in the same position that our protagonists are and this subtle view to their possible future helps the slightly bitter sweet ending feel a less harsh. Sure, everyone seems content with the new role they have, but it’s all “for now”. What happens later is a bridge they should worry about when they have to cross it.
About the author: Please feel free to read another point of view of this production, written by my colleague Alex Rucki.